Well, it sure didn't rain in Las Vegas like it did in Charlotte for the Mustang Club of America's bi-coastal birthday party celebrating Mustang's 50th year. Despite cloudless skies and brilliant sun at both venues at the Thursday opening, Mother Nature had other ideas for the rest of the weekend at the North Carolina location.
So, if fair weather was a consideration in deciding where to take your Mustang for the 50th anniversary, Las Vegas proved unbeatable in its consistency. Of course, geography played the dominant role in most celebrants' decisionmaking, with East Coasters heading to Charlotte and Westerners hitting the highway to Las Vegas. However, the parties' global coordinates also played a role in another group of Mustangers' travel decisions—those coming from overseas.
Though there was a strong foreign contingent at Charlotte, we think Las Vegas probably drew more visitors from abroad. Not only is the gambling town a household name worldwide thanks to endless movie appearances, but the western U.S. has an exotic attraction, with its deserts, mountains, and canyons, plus the relatively nearby Los Angeles and all its cinematic celebrity. Which may explain why 400 French made a highly visible showing at the Las Vegas confab, plus numerous Germans, Danish, Swedes, Australians, and New Zealanders—none of which discounts the legions of good ol' 'Mericuns that showed up, too.
What both venues offered was a huge facility ready to welcome as many Mustangs as the world could bring. There was more than ample parking outside both Charlotte Motor Speedway and Las Vegas Motor Speedway, tons of room inside for vendors and displays, an inside road course for Ford demonstration laps, and open-track opportunities at both speedways. At Las Vegas, Nellis Air Force Base next door provided random moments of jet-powered patriotism. And need we note that Las Vegas' glitz was just five miles down the freeway? There's a reason why conventions, including the automotive kind, drive to Las Vegas. In Charlotte, attendees were treated to Southern charm, numerous nearby automotive museums, and a plethora of dining choices.
Our West Coast 50th celebration started 200 miles west of Las Vegas and a couple thousand miles west of Charlotte at Saleen’s Corona, California, headquarters, where one of several Pony Drives originated. As expected, Saleen had the joint fully decorated for the hundreds of Mustangs making the trip all the way to Charlotte.
Without question, the star of both shows was obviously the ’15 Mustang, specifically the 50th Anniversary Edition. Ford will only build 1,964 of them, and there are several distinguishing characteristics to separate them from standard ’15s. First, the 50th Anniversary is a GT model with the Performance Pack, and it’s only available in Wimbledon White and Kona Blue. The rear-quarter windows are louvered with layered sheets of glass, the faux gas cap out back is marked with “GT” and “50 Years,” the 19-inch Y-spoke wheels were inspired by the steel wheels bolted to the original Mustang, and chrome touches frame the car’s tail lights, grille, and side glass. 50th Anniversary-specific touches are on the seats and the dash, as well, with an exclusive two-tone cashmere-and-black interior color scheme. Mustang Melvins already know the 50th Anniversary will be the only way to get an automatic-equipped Performance Pack GT, which includes Brembo brakes, Pirelli P-Zero tires, and a limited-slip differential with 3.55 gea
Las Vegas showgoers entered the speedway grounds via this arched display of significant Mustangs sponsored by Ford. It was a fine showcase, and we wish there had been more formal displays such as this around the show.
Revolution Automotive customers are known for having wicked street cars, thanks to Adam Browne and his crew. Rob Rabon is the Rev Auto customer who owns this ’11 GT, which boasts 610 rwhp thanks to a Paxton Novi 2200 supercharger, and increased coolness thanks to a Airlift Performance Digital airbag suspension and a Chameleon dip transformation. Rounding out exterior mods are RTR wheels, front fascia and splitter, and rear decklid and spoiler. Rob also does quite a bit of photography in the Baltimore area, as well, under Rob Rabon Photography. It appears Rob is adept at shooting both cars and people ... with a camera, that is.
Unlike the Vegas event, which had a dominating number of Shelby GT500s, the Charlotte event had a mixture of everything. Take, for example, this Foose Stallion. This car was Chip Foose’s brief foray into the Mustang “tuner market,” if you will. This ’07 model is naturally aspirated, but the Stallion was available with a supercharger and a Roush custom tune. The Foose Stallion benefitted from Chip’s design cues from front to rear to distinguish it from your average Mustang. Besides the exterior differences, each Stallion also came with Chip’s own paint scheme ideas, with hues and designs to further set them apart.
Color sure plays a larger part in Mustanging than ever before. This is another visitor from Texas. The ProCharged 3V looks like fun, but the red-on-black treatment is what catches the eye.
Roush Mustangs? Yep, they were there in squadron strength. Here a P-51A leads a flight of 427Rs and their kin. We discovered a fair number of model-specific parking jobs such as this around the speedway’s walk-in entrance, which made it easy to study the evolution of these brands. You had to look for them, though, as there was no signage or program guide to mark these displays.
As expected for such giant events, there were glitches. Registration lines were sometimes an hour and half of tedium, and many of the details on opening day had gone unrehearsed. But the pleasantly enthusiastic MCA volunteer organization improved with experience, and the big stuff was in place from the get-go. Frankly, we would have been surprised if this immense celebration spanning the entire U.S. ran like an oiled main bearing. It was a huge enterprise, and one that only need run once each generation.
The vibe throughout the speedway grounds was unhurried. With so much room, there certainly was no crowding and none of the hurry-it-up sense you can get at more-compact venues. Outside, in the huge parking lot, couples and groups leisurely eyeballed the impressive spread of Mustangs arrayed in the order they drove in the gate.
Of course, the mix was bar-belled with early classics at one end and the current crop of late-models at the other. But we'll admit a little surprise at the realization of just how many Mustangs Ford must have sold in the last decade, as legions of S197s were found throughout. These ranged from daily driver sixes to extensively modified GT500s, and there was no lack of any of them. There were also a good representation of Mustang IIs—always a rarity.
A bit around the corner from the main show entrance, the open-track crew was somewhat in their own world. Here the S197s held near total domination, with squadrons of Boss 302s, GT500s, and the odd Boss 302S or R highlighting the track prowess the modern Mustang enjoys. The few classics on hand were, as expected, all-out race cars or dedicated track toys trailered in for their bit of noisy fun.
Finally, as a joke in Las Vegas, everyone could be heard saying they weren't going to attend the 100-year anniversary—but it wasn't because they didn't want to! At the Charlotte event, people expressed the hope they would be around for the 75th.
It’s said you can’t know where you’re going until you know where you’ve been. For Mustang enthusiasts and the ’15 Mustang, we’re still going in the right direction—and this is where we’ve been. On display at Charlotte was this original Pace Car from the Indianapolis 500. As the sign says, this car was built the first day of Mustang production and sent to Holman Moody to be prepped for the race. As timeless as a Mustang can get, this one is all original, as seen on race day over 50 years ago.
The supply of dressed-up late-models was endless at Las Vegas. This showy GT is from Texas (and parked among his club buddies) and exemplifies the sophistication possible today with easily applied graphics and dress-up parts. There’s plenty of hand-detailing here, too.
Four generations of Mustangs separate Hal Sperlich at left and Hau Thai-Tang at right, but they might as well have been brothers at the 50th Anniversary. Both men are or were Ford vice presidents and both were instrumental in Mustang development. Sperlich was the original Mustang program manager, and Thai-Tang was the ’05 Mustang chief engineer. Sperlich went on with Lee Iacocca to save Chrysler by inventing the garageable mini-van; Thai-Tang is currently Ford Group vice president in charge of Global Purchasing with a $90 billion checkbook in his hip pocket. Understandably, Hal’s wife, Dee Ann, looks on approvingly.
We don’t think anyone likes turning 50, but nothing has looked this good at 50 since Raquel Welch (sorry, KJ), so the Mustang was deserving of a cake. We didn’t stick around long enough to get a piece. No one seemed in too much of a hurry to cut a cake such as this, signifying such a momentus occasion.
It seems the West Coast guys drove to Charlotte and the East Coasters came to Las Vegas … as illustrated by this Gotta Have It Green GT out of Frankfort, Kentucky. The combination is mainly green, with some Roush trim, 11⁄2-inch lowering, and the obligatory billet wheels.
Of the obvious international presence at the 50th party, the Mustang Club of France was the most visible. How? They all wore a white uniform shirt with the club logo on it, and there were approximately 400 of them on site (200 members and 200 spouses)! Out in the parking lot they arranged their rental Mustangs in a red, white and blue block, too.
Taking full advantage of the touring opportunities, the French club had been touring a week prior to the celebration, hitting Los Angeles, the Grand Canyon, and Bryce and Zion National Parks. They went on to do more of the same the week after the event, as well.
They found Utah spectacular, and were amazed by the freedom we enjoy in modifying our vehicles. “In France, it is just nothing!” exclaimed one. “You cannot even change the tires.” We pressed them on that point and they all insisted the tire size and ratings are set in stone.
Well, if they aren't modifying their Mustangs, the French are enjoying them. The now 30-year-old club meets each month for weekend tours that are heavy on pleasant countryside and fabulous food.
Craig Denson of Bend, Oregon, was liking the Recaro GT500 seats as an upgrade for his 347-powered ’94 GT—until we pointed out they were OEM-only and the aftermarket Recaros were on the other side of the booth. We sounded like experts, but in reality we had just heard the gal from Recaro tell the same to another customer. Craig also has ’67, ’69, and ’70 Mustangs.
There was no shortage of restored early Mustangs at Las Vegas to represent the Mustang heritage, but to our eye, Larry Knapp’s Boss 429 ’66 fastback drag car beats them all. A street car for the first three years and a drag car ever since, the beast is still owned and campaigned by Knapp. That’s our kind of one-owner Mustang!
Van Halen's 5150 came out in 1986, the same year the 5.0 Mustang came equipped with fuel injection across the board. Mustang enthusiasts thought performance was dead, but in actuality, it was just the beginning.